Monday, November 28, 2005

A few random pictures

This is the Amman Radisson, where the suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of the wedding. He was married and working with his wife, although she failed to detonate. Last week, about 3 days after the bombings, I visited the hotel, which was strangely still in operation. They had already built up the front of the hotel, where the glass was blown out. In a really eerie manner, however, you could see a black sheet covering one of the back rooms, where the wedding was taking place. Being there was quite sobering.

An ironic picture- in front of the McDonalds, that sign says, “Jordan first.” Apparently that doesn’t include shopping at Jordanian businesses.

After returning from class this week, a bunch of sheep were grazing in front of our apartment. Huh?

Malaysia, Malaysia, Malaysia

These pictures are from one of the wilder nights I’ve had here, the night we hosted our class for the Iftaar (in case you forgot, that’s the fast-breaking meal). Gosh, it was ludicrous, as we piled about 20 Malaysian girls, 5 Malysian guys, 3 Bruneiins, and our Jordanian professor into our little abode for a good ole’ American pot luck. Up until this point, we could only enjoy the Malaysians from afar, as they were extremely shy around us, especially the girls. Well, this night broke all barriers! By the end of the evening, we had girl after girl wanting their picture with us. Although we were concerned the next day would be like the awkward morning after: ‘Wait, what did we do last night?’ (Not that I know what that’s like) But alas, our class is like one big family! I really like these little people, and they bring me great joy. Will and I (Anne as well) even went to an all-Malaysian party. There’s one guy, best described as the Malaysian version of Steve Urkel, who I especially enjoy. My favorite activity with Fadel Noor, or 'The Fadel' as we call him, is to tickle him. He lets out these crazy Malaysian peeps, which are priceless. Today was his birthday, and Will and I made him this absolutely absurd birthday card...I wish you all could have seen his reaction.

Jordan Valley fun

About a month ago, some of my friends and I drove southwest through the lush Jordan Valley, hoping to reach the actual Jordan River (or at least a nearby pond) to camp out. After being initially turned back by the Jordanian military, we further meandered through the villages, trying to avert the blocked paths. Eventually, we reached a dead-end; well, more the end of a small complex of homes. As we gazed at the wonderful view of Israel and the southern end of the Golan Heights, a man came out of the house. This kind of a situation would be extremely awkward in the States, showing up at some random person’s house in the middle of nowhere. “Uhh, do you know how to reach there? Yeah, I know there is forbidden by the military; and yeah, I also know that there doesn’t really have anything specific to do; and yeah, it’s strange and stupid we want to camp…but, is it possible?” However, I’ve lived enough in the Middle East to know that very few Middle Easterners (especially rural folks) will turn down the opportunity to be hospitable. We spent the next 24 hours with this family, chatting it up, meeting endless amounts of relatives, eating babaganoush from eggplants we just picked, and drinking cup of tea after cup of tea, and playing American songs on the guitar. For the camping, we crammed four of us in the tent, while Will slept outside. Aside from the cramped space, sleep was difficult due the cacophony of sounds radiating outside our tent. First, there were the men hanging out near our tent who would not shut up! Then, there was this crazy animal cackling throughout the night, which our hosts later told us was an animal similar to a wolf…a hyena? Finally, there was the hourly volley of gunshots. The Israelis? No. The Jordanian military? Nope. The local guard killing wild (nocturnal) boars throughout the night? Yep. I’m still not sure whether he was shooting the boars to protect the crops or us, but there were times the shots definitely sounded like they were in my ear, which is a bit disconcerting! A nice little adventure.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Post-Bombing Reaction (my impressions)

As expected, the last few days have been fairly draining. The night of the bombings (which we heard about at around 10 p.m.), I labored until after 6 a.m. on an article for the Indianapolis Star (to no avail, of course). Will and I have spent most of our time continuing to write, thinking, and getting a sense of the mood here (well, there was also a night of Tunisian food and Jordanian wine). Although I wish I could see Amman, in general, I’ve really tried to take advantage of being in Jordan during their 9/11. I would say that I’ve done that, joining in peace marches, talking with friends and strangers, and watching local TV. I should describe the general mood, as I’ve experienced it.

But please, the last thing I want is for you to make generalizations based only on my impressions. Be careful! Keep in mind, this is Irbid, which prides itself on being “not Amman.” It's sort of like being in Boston on 9/11, as opposed to NYC. That having been said, in some ways, I’m reminded of post-9/11 United States. Jordanian flags are EVERYWHERE, and patriotic songs and programming are quite prevalent. This is really good for people to express pride in their country. But like after 9/11 in the US, it gets a bit problematic when it’s combined with nationalism. As I’ve explained to you all before, the relationship in Jordan between Jordanian-Jordanians and Palestinian-Jordanians is not all butterflies and flowers. I think that many Jordanian-Jordanians consider the Palestinians ungrateful for the citizenship they’ve received. Palestinian-Jordanians, while I’m sure 99% of them love Jordan, are also attached to Palestine. More problematically, there are millions of Iraqis here. They, of course, aren’t integrated into Jordanian society; they’re Iraqis, not Jordanians. While the Palestinian-Jordanians face tensions about loyalty, there is no such tension for Iraqis. They’re refugee Iraqis, who have very little commitment to Jordan, and this is rather obvious in a number of ways. When things calm down in Iraq (if ever), they’ll go home, no doubt.

I think that some Jordanian-Jordanians perceive Wednesday’s bombings as having nothing to do with the 'real' Jordan, but with foreigners and immigrants. This isn't entirely unreasonable, as nearly all of this country's immediate political problems relate to the situation in Israel and the Iraq war. It doesn’t help, of course, that the four bombers were Iraqis and the mastermind, Abu Musab Al-Zarqaqi, a Jordanian in Iraq, is of Palestinian descent. The perception amongst many Jordanian-Jordanians is that most of the problems in Jordanian society result from these groups’ political ambitions, or even cultural flaws. While this certainly has some truth, it’s such human nature! In every society, we hold the other group responsible for our societal problems. Think about our own country; white folks blame black people for all the crime, while the black people blame whites for their poverty. It’s a sad condition, it really is. In Jordan (like in all cases, I guess), I can understand the frustrations from all parties. I just hope that this tragedy doesn’t turn into nationalistic anger. But, it’s hard for me to sense how much of the peace marches and patriotism is directed against (that word is probably too strong) those who aren’t whole-hearted supporters of the Hashemite monarchy (often the Palestinian-Jordanians) and how much of it is pure love of country and hatred of violence. I guess the national slogan of “Jordan First” can be interpreted different ways.

It will be interesting to see if there are any genuine attempts to reanalyze Jordanian foreign policy, especially its support of the Iraq War. At this point, it seems like no, and I'm not certain what the popular will is on that. If there were, however, that would have serious consequences for the US. Once the anger with Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda die down, we'll see how the policy discussions develop. At this point, however, the country seems to be united, and I hope that continues.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

the bombs in Jordan

Hi. Well, everything’s still a shock here in Jordan. Even though I’m not in Amman (which apparently is filled with police and the military), this event is HUGE for Jordan. It’s weird, but the reactions seem very paradoxical. On the one hand, no one is surprised that this happened here. In fact, numerous people have openly said that it was only a matter of time, given Jordan’s relationship with the United States. Yet, Jordan is a place that prides itself on being a stable, peaceful state. That identity, which is truly a part of being Jordanian, has been shattered.

Today Will and I (despite the Fulbright’s requests otherwise- some ‘risks’ are worth taking) joined a peace march in Irbid. Tomorrow there will be the biggest marches, especially in Amman. Still, even this march was really moving; in fact, it made me cry. People were chanting, “No to terrorism,” “Jordan is our country,” and my favorite (loosely translated) “We march with blood ending your pain King Hussein (former king of Jordan).” While this march was very pro-monarchy, which I think most people are, mostly, it was most importantly, pro-Jordan. People waved Jordanian flags, held banners, sang, and danced, as we marched through the streets of Irbid. It was a celebration of Jordan and all that Jordan represents. It was a pro-Islamic, but it was prp-moderation, decrying the extremism that Jordan has generally avoided until now. It was very genuine. Attached are a few pictures.

I feel like I should clarify last night’s e-mail a bit. I was emotional when I wrote and maybe now I can clarify. First, I am absolutely appalled by yesterday’s events. Watching this massacre in the country I have called home for the last two months is sickening. I have developed a love for the Jordanian people, famed for their hospitality and generosity, and it grieves me to see them subjected to such horrific violence. As I watched the carnage, I felt the same tension as I described above. A part of me says, “Not Jordan? No way!” Yet, at the same time, I remember specifically thinking, “Well, it was bound to happen soon.” For some of us, because of the Middle East’s infinite complexities, the temptation is to react to these bombings in Amman with blind rage, or perhaps to throw our hands in the air in disregard. However, it is incumbent upon us to seek deeper answers. Is the reason for the targeting of Westerners and Jordan merely irrational religious fervor? Is the increased worldwide rage at the United States entirely the result of propaganda?

Personally, I remain angry. I am furious that there are people who believe that blowing themselves up at a wedding party, killing scores, is a commendable means to make a political statement. These same radicals are doing so in Iraq, killing innocents. I am livid that certain radicals can tarnish an entire religion. These actions are sub-human, true crimes against humanity, and I am enraged with the leaders of these violent movements. However, as an American citizen, I realize that my own responsibility does not lie with these terrorists. I have a patriotic duty to ensure that my own government’s policies are just, that they benefit both our country and the larger world. This may be the source of my fiercest anger, as today’s horrific events continue to demonstrate that our own elected government’s policies are creating a world that is more dangerous, more radical, and more hateful. Walking the streets of Irbid after the attacks, I was keenly and shamefully conscious of the enormous affects of these government actions on Jordanians’ lives.

(I’ve explained this before, but it bears repeating.) As our staunchest Arab ally, Jordan and its citizens have paid a difficult price for that alliance. In an extremely unstable region of the world, Jordan’s history has been one of continual adjustment to nearby events that affect its survival. Numerous problems created by the current war in Iraq, for example, have overflowed into Jordan. Not only has this small country been forced to accommodate the massive influx of Iraqis fleeing the country, causing enormous increases in housing prices and a mini-cultural crisis, but no longer do the Jordanian people enjoy subsidies on Iraqi oil, hitting the poorest the hardest. Events in Israel and the West Bank have impinged upon Jordan to an even greater extent. With the establishment of Israel and the subsequent wars of 1948 and 1967, Jordan absorbed enormous amounts of Palestinian refugees. This ‘refugee problem’ has continued to be a dominate factor in Jordanian society for decades (as I’ve explained before) and a majority of Jordan’s population is now of Palestinian descent. While this relationship has achieved some stability, the past violence is not forgotten, especially 1970’s Black September when 3,000 Palestinians were killed in what became a near civil war.

In the politics of today’s post-9/11, “with us or against us” world, Jordan has been placed in the impossible position of either turning it’s back on the alliance with the United States (one that does provide important assistance) or supporting (tacitly or not) policies that the vast majority, if not all, of it’s population despise. This includes Iraq and Israel. That’s why yesterday’s tragedy seemed to be a foregone conclusion. The Iraq War and our unwavering support for Israel’s highly controversial policies have radicalized both Jordanian society and the larger Arab world. In attempting to understand yesterday’s violence, as well as violence throughout the region, it is critical that we remember this context.

The Iraq War is largely condemned by the worldwide community, both in its origin and for its excessive use of force. I’ve had absolutely crazy stories from Iraqis here about their home country and the intense hardships created by our invasion and the subsequent insurgency. Iraq, a country where inter-religious tension was relatively calm, is now on the verge of collapsing into a civil war. Yes, Saddam is gone, but things are truly worse now. The country has been hijacked by various interest groups- The United States and it’s desire for a more secure, Israel-friendly, oil-giving, and democratic Iraq; Al-Qaida’s hatred for Western policies, and its attempts to demonstrate its strength by killing in restaurants; Iran, and its hope for a Shia’ Iraq.

Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains extremely unpopular throughout the world and especially amongst the Arab states. In fact, this dominates the political minds of many Arabs. Once again, Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel is a huge source of contention. Personally, I admire the former King Hussein’s (and Yitzhak Rabin) attempts to rise above the hatred and the violence to pursue such a treaty, especially amidst opposition. But given Israel’s current policies, this treaty, which has the potential to set an important example, is despised more each day. By encouraging Israel in its extremist policies (or at least saying nothing to the contrary), the United States will continue to risk future attacks, both within our borders and inside those of our allies., including Israel and Jordan.

As I listen to the recurrent news reports of bombs indiscriminately dropped throughout the Middle East, in cities such as Baghdad, Fallujah, and Gaza City, I feel depressed. As I meet people here and am forced to confront my own government’s role in these countless heartbreaking stories of violence and displacement in Iraq and Palestine, I am livid. Watching the bombs explode in Amman last night, I was acutely aware that the current United States policy in the Middle East is only encouraging violent reaction, fostering hatred of Americans and our allies, and enraging a region of the world desperate for moderate voices. For the Jordanians, the violence of both state and terrorism is, once again, preventing normal life and altering national history. This is the true tragedy.